Barely discernible over the gentle murmur of rustling leaves and vines making soft rubbing sounds against the bark of the trees in the gentle breeze Lukas whispered “Do you see it?” Eyes Straining, watering from the long hours peering through the powerful spotting scope Manuel spit “I don’t see a fucking thing, we’ve been” then went silent as his eye picked up a slight movement in the distance. Manuel tuned the scope to the spot and moved the setting of the scope to the highest power without taking his eye off of the jungle where the movement had been. At 45x power he could make out individual ribs and veins of the leaves; field of view narrowed by the high power setting of the spotting scope he only partially saw the puff of the burning powder as it pushed the 150 grain bullet out the barrel of the sniper rifle at just over 3000 feet per second.
Sgt. Pete Miller Ret. Knew he was a hunted man; you kill a cartel boss, you can count on it. He was a little pissed off the reward for his head was only $50k; alive $75k. They wanted him dead but wanted him alive a whole lot more. The punishment they would deal him would more than make up for the extra cost of bringing him to the cartels form of justice.
Manuel’s brain had just enough time to realize what he’d just seen as Lukas’s head exploded and sprayed blood and brains against the side of his face. Instantly rolling to his right and digging his head into the soft jungle litter saved his life as the second bullet ripped past his head nicking his left ear and making a nice half circle with burnt edges, smooth as glass. The first crack of the rifle joining the second nearly coming together as one huge explosion; Pop, pop as 20mm grenade rounds lifted into the air. Manuel rolled and jumped to his feet making a good five meters before the grenades landed, one behind him, one boring it’s self into the leaves and twigs just at his feet.
“Impossible; I’m the best” Flashed in Manuel’s brain milliseconds before the blast lifted him ten feet straight up into the vines, splitting him neatly in two; a red spray spotting the myriad of jungle leaves like a fine rain. The local police would believe he had stepped on a land mine; wrong only for the fact that Lukas and Manuel hadn’t attempted to follow the trail left for them by Miller. Maybe in the next few weeks a villager would show them what a true mine could do to the human body; they’d need a dust pan to get all the pieces; Miller was packing some good shit.
Lying in the jungle litter; shadows, muted light flickering reflecting from innumerable rain drops Miller watched the two hit men set up their shooting position. Not a bad set up he thought; to bad Miller had already laid several land mines and his own position over looking his back trail. He watched as both carefully concealed themselves and cut a few vines blocking their view of the low shallow valley walled on both sides by low but formidable rock formations; ones that would make climbing a very difficult if not an impossible task. Bracing his rifle on his pack and settling down for the long wait he snacked on a protein bar and thought back on his first jungle mission.
Jungles of Vietnam; long after the formal war ended, Miller found himself part of a handpicked team looking for a General of the Vietnamese Army who was responsible for the murder of America service men captured during the war. His death would remind enemies of America that justice would be handed out regardless of how many years separated evil deeds. Miller third man in line, five meters between them heard the metallic click of his last step. Freezing in place, standing in the middle of the narrow thin trail holding his breath Miller eyes showed he understood what the click meant. All six members froze in place, each looking to see who had stepped on the detonator switch; then hit the dirt when it wasn’t them; waiting, expecting the explosion. Slowly heads began to rise above the litter and vines looking to see who was standing on the mine. Whispered orders, hand signals, a quick assessment; six men evaporated into the jungle putting at least a hundred meters between them and Miller standing on an old rusting U.S. land mine. All recognized the model as one that would leave a huge crater; one of the biggest in the U.S. arsenal. Many times U.S. troops would rig multiple mines together with a single trip wire; whole trail systems would explode at once killing anyone along the trail for at least a hundred and fifty meters.
Sweeping the jungle for other killer teams Miller decided the two men were the only ones in the immediate area. Placing the cross hairs of his scope on the top of the man’s head, the one who was the shooter Miller shook a fine vine with his left hand waiting for the men to discover the movement. Mr. Right side saw the movement first; raising he head slightly brought him cleanly into the center of the cross hairs in Millers scope. Miller noticed that Mr. Left had just spotted the movement as he slowly increased the pressure on the trigger. These two appeared to have military training but obviously it had been many years and skills had deteriorated with lack of practice or continued training. Killing Mr. Right first would assure no return fire and would force Mr. Left to make a hasty retreat to Millers left away from the dead man if Miller’s second snap shot missed. It would all depend on Mr. Left’s reflexes and training. Miller had already made plans for Mr. Left if he happened to evade the .308’s wrath.
Waiting thirty minutes for the team to slowly quietly leave the area Miller found himself thinking of his life, what was and what could have been. He checked his watch and decided it was time to live or die depending on whether the U.S. made land mine was still functioning. It must have been laid towards the end of the conflict; after the North was able to slow the tons of traffic of arms and munitions towards the South. That made it at least 35 years old sitting in the jungle floor, covered in mud, wet, cold and rusting.
Two in the bag Miller knew he could look forward to swarms of hunter killer teams descending on the area; blood money was hard to turn down, besides how hard could it be to bag an American in your own jungle.
Slowly, deliberately, Miller raised his boot from the mine. No reason to run, no reason to jump, plow head first into the jungle floor; this mine alone would create a crater larger than Miller would ever hope to clear and live let alone if it was teamed with a bunch more up and down the tiny trail. He’d never even know if it went off; he’d be blown to tiny pieces so fast no one’s brain could comprehend its own destruction that fast.
A little more weight off, a little more; click.
After the jungle settled down from the 20mm grenades and the insects again began to make their mating calls Miller relaxed but continued to scan the jungle for movement of hidden killer teams. It was just unlikely that this team was working completely alone. A huge explosion and a scream answered that question as one of Miller’s mines went up in a cloud of litter mixed with blood and bone fragments. It was the closest mine that he had laid to his shooting position; meaning that whatever tripped it had already evaded three he had carefully laid and hidden with great care. Was it a jungle animal ran through Miller’s mind; the answer came as a human left hand and other torn and obliterated human parts rained down all around him. Miller dug deep into the wet earth for cover as machine gun fire sliced and cut vines and small trees in lethal fragments searching for soft tissue to rip and tear. A grenade landed two feet from Millers face; rolling to his left away and into a small depression in the litter saved him from all but a few splinters of shrapnel. Miller found himself in the middle of a well planned and perfectly executed ambush; the two fools he’d killed were bait to bring him out of hiding and into the sights of a large killer team. His sniper rifle, pack and his equipment was strewn about the hide by the first grenade; made useless by the explosion. Pulling his .45 from his hip Miller waited for the killers to check their kill.
Click; silence. Miller looked down at his foot; his boot was two inches above the protruding three prongs pushing through the ground litter. It could be a hang fire his mind was screaming, or it could be rusted and water goo filled and no longer working. Miller knowing he was a dead man slowly walked into the jungle away from the tiny trail.
Three came into the small clearing to Millers right; silently searching for the concealed sniper. These were dead men and they all knew it; either the sniper was dead, or they would be in seconds, cannon fodder for the remaining team members. Miller pulled pins on three grenades and held them tightly to his chest waiting for the exact moment when it would do the most damage. A huge back Sheppard burst into the clearing and straight for Miller’s hiding spot. A trained kill dog at least a hundred and fifty pounds used to flush hidden quarry from the jungle brush. These guys had it all; Miller clutching the grenades with his left arm raised his .45 and dropped the Sheppard’s snapping jaws two feet from his face. Throwing his grenades and firing into the jungle Miller only hope was to take as many with him as possible. Pinned to his spot by withering fire; grenades landing all around him; the calamity of fire and grenade explosions drowned out the beating of rotor blades directly over Millers head. Quad thirty trails of tracers tracked through the jungle seeking flesh. Mini guns from four ships rained down from above cutting the jungle tangled trees and vines to the ground. Bullets rototilled the leaf litter leaving only feet of unturned earth around Miller’s slight depression in the ground. A camouflaged helmeted figure landed at Miller’s side; jerked him to his feet and wrapped a belt around his waist; he was hoisted to the waiting helicopter in less than two seconds and with rotor blades cutting tree tops off they made their way east at top speed.
The sun was warm; the beer cold in Miller’s hand. His new friend scantly clothed with beads of fine sweat between her breasts; ran a slim finger down the partially healed gouge that split Miller’s right cheek through four days of stubble. Sipping his beer Miller thought “It’s good to be alive”.